Note: Due to a site migration, the original version of this post (and all its comments) were lost. This is a copy and paste of the original article. Apologies that your comments were not able to be recovered. It’s probably time to move on with your lives. -Mitch
Date: Thursday, 28th June
Venue: WIN Stadium, Wollongong
Kick Off: 7:50 AEST
Head Referee: Ben Cummins
Assistant Referee: Peter Gough
Head-to-head: Played 33 – Parramatta 17, Dragons 14, Drawn 2
Odds: Eels $3.75 Dragons $1.27
Broadcast: Foxtel, Nine from 7:30pm
Last Four Encounters:
1. Eels 24 def Dragons 10, ANZ Stadium – Round 15, 2017
2. Eels 34 def Dragons 16, WIN Stadium – Round 2, 2017
3. Eels 30 def Dragons 18, Pirtek Stadium – Round 25, 2016
4. Eels 16 def Dragons 12, Pirtek Stadium – Round 16, 2016
The Warm Up:
This season, the relative fortunes of the Dragons and Eels are literally reverse images of each other. Let’s consider how the two sides match up this week:
Top team vs bottom team.
Three losses vs three wins.
Powerful, highly praised pack vs much criticised, lightweight forwards.
Goal kicking sharp shooter vs team that’s lost 5 matches on kicks.
Then we have the most damning measure of both clubs in 2018. Up to Round 15, the Dragons had used just 22 different players this season – the least of any club. Incredibly, 15 of their players have played in every match!
In stark contrast, the Eels have used 28 different players – equaling Manly as the highest number for any club. In a stunning statistic, only three Eels have played in every match. And there we have 2018 in a nutshell.
On paper, and based on form, it’s impossible to go past the Dragons. They’re playing a more attacking brand of football than previous seasons, and they have the backline talent to capitalise on their powerful forwards.
The Eels have simply failed to fire this year, and their inability to field the same team due to injuries has only served to compound their problems.
There’s nothing to warrant tipping an Eels victory, except history. There’s a funny thing about rugby league history – it has a habit of repeating.
Having a Punt:
This week’s value bet is for Corey Norman to score the first try, paying a mammoth $31 with TAB Sportsbet. For a more conservative punt, consider the double of Parra getting 10.5 start coupled with over 40.5 total match points at $4.
The first try favourites are listed below:
Eels: Bevan French – $11, George Jennings – $13
Dragons: Dufty, MacDonald, Aitken & Mann – all $10
Feed Your Footy Brain:
With Brad Arthur at the helm (excluding his time in the caretaker role in 2012), the Eels are yet to lose a match to the St George Illawarra Dragons.
The last victory by the Dragons was in Round 10 of 2013.
Tracking: Brad Takairangi:
Is he a forward or a back? After spending the pre-season preparing for life in the forwards, in the absence of Jarryd Hayne, Brad Takairangi found himself switched back to the centres when Brad Arthur was looking to find a solution to the Eels run of losses.
Now, the versatile and talented Kiwi international has settled back into life in the pack and his presence brings a point of difference to a group of forwards labelled as being far too similar.
At 192 cm and 108 kg, Takairangi is one of the biggest players on the Parramatta roster and has the pace and step to create trouble as a running edge forward. His ball skills give him the capacity to promote second phase play or to be the link man between forwards and backs.
With the Eels looking for ways to be more adventurous in attack, I’m expecting Takaz to take a prominent role.
Danger man: Nene MacDonald
Big Dragon’s winger Nene MacDonald is one of the key men in this resurgent Dragons line up. Possessing the height (194cm) and aerial skills so desirable for the modern outside back, the Kumuls international is a constant threat when chasing the high kicks of Hunt and Widdop.
MacDonald is also a strong carrier of the football, and at 111 kilograms he carts the ball back from kicks like a powerful extra forward. Likewise, his presence at the end of the talented Dragons backline has seen him lead their try scorer list along with Euan Aitken.
The Eels will do well to kick away from MacDonald with their long kicks. It could also prove problematic to expose French to defending one on one against him, as he’s the type of player who requires multiple defenders to keep him in check.
Dragons: 1 Matt Dufty, 2 Nene MacDonald, 3 Euan Aitken, 4 Tim Lafai, 5 Kurt Mann, 6 Gareth Widdop (c), 7 Ben Hunt, 8 James Graham, 9 Cameron McInnes, 10 Paul Vaughan, 11 Jacob Host, 12 Tariq Sims, 13 Jack De Belin
Interchange: 14 Jeremy Latimore, 15 Jason Nightingale, 16 Leeson Ah Mau, 17 Luciano Leilua
Reserves: 18 Blake Lawrie, 19 Reece Robson, 20 Jai Field, 21 Hame Sele
Eels: 1 Clint Gutherson (c), 2 Bevan French, 3 Michael Jennings, 4 Jarryd Hayne, 5 George Jennings, 6 Mitchell Moses, 7 Corey Norman, 8 Daniel Alvaro, 9 Cameron King, 10 Siosaia Vave, 11 Marata Niukore, 12 Brad Takairangi, 13 Nathan Brown
Interchange: 14 Will Smith, 15 Tim Mannah (c), 16 David Gower, 17 Peni Terepo
Reserves: 18 Kirisome Auva’a, 19 Kane Evans, 20 Jaeman Salmon
Nathan Brown vs Jack De Belin:
This week’s announcement of Beau Scott’s retirement has put the spotlight well and truly on Nathan Brown. If ever there was an heir apparent to Scott, it’s the player that we here at TCT fondly refer to as the Cyborg.
Like Scott, Brown plays with a level of aggressive commitment that pushes the bounds of legality, and yet is so much more controlled than during his time at the Rabbitohs.
As his name implies, Brown is an absolute machine in both attack and defence, and his feats literally demand that the rest of the pack follow suit. It almost goes without saying that he’ll once again top 100 running metres and go close to leading the tackle count.
Brown’s counterpart in Dragon’s colours is one of the most confident footballers in the NRL. Jack De Belin believed that he earned the right to play Origin football and his strong showings for the Red V supported that self-belief.
Like Brown, De Belin is an aggressive competitor both with and against the football. He’s become particularly dangerous in the red zone as the defence becomes uncertain whether he will take the line on himself or promote second phase football.
If there’s one thing that Parra don’t want to see, it’s De Belin with an extra spring in his step. After the Blues’ success in Origin, this bloke might think he can run through walls!
And The Winner Is:
Get ready for the insanity!
In my last two previews I tipped against the Eels. I was wrong when Parra defeated the Cowboys, but on the money when the Rabbitohs proved too strong.
This week I’m ignoring exposed form and tipping the Eels to win on the back of a revitalised Corey Norman.
I’m paying respect to history and to how the team has prepared for this clash.
Eels 28 – Dragons 20
Man of the Match – Corey Norman